Roar, Lion, Roar

Men’s Basketball Wins College Insider Tournament

Men’s basketball capped its winningest season ever by defeating UC Irvine 73–67 at Levien Gym on March 29 to win the 2016 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament Championship. It was the first postseason tournament title in Columbia history and only the second for any Ivy League school; Princeton won the NIT Championship in 1975.

Columbia compiled a 25–10 record including a 10–4 mark in Ivy League play, good for third place behind Yale (13–1) and Princeton (12–2). The 25 victories broke the school record for most wins in a season, which had been 23 in 1967–68.

The Lions beat Norfolk State, Ball State and NJIT to advance to the CIT finals, where they scored 12 consecutive points late in the second half to overcome a seven-point deficit and then held on to win behind 20 points by Grant Mullins ’16, who made six of his seven shot attempts, including three from 3-point range.

One day after the Lions celebrated the tournament victory by cutting down the nets in Levien Gym, coach Kyle Smith, who compiled a 101–83 record in six seasons at Columbia, announced his resignation to become coach at the University of San Francisco. Smith said the chance to return to the Bay Area, where he spent 18 years before coming to Columbia, was too good to pass up.

“You hope you can leave the place better than you found it, and I’d like to think we did that,” Smith wrote in a farewell column published in Spectator. “Winning the CIT championship was a great way to close this chapter, especially with this group of seniors, though we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal of winning an Ivy League championship.”

That challenge now falls to Jim Engles, the former NJIT head coach and Lions assistant coach who was named to succeed Smith. “I am humbled and beyond excited to become the next head basketball coach at Columbia,” Engles said. “My first experience here was tremendous. I look forward to reconnecting with some of my former colleagues who are still here, and I cannot wait to get to work.”

Maodo Lo ’16 cuts down the net after winning the CIT championship.

Maodo Lo ’16 cuts down the net after winning the CIT championship.

Mike McLaughlin / Columbia Athletics

One of Engles’ major tasks will be replacing Maodo Lo ’16, who led the Lions by averaging 16.9 points per game, was a unanimous selection for the All-Ivy First Team and was the Most Valuable Player of the CIT. The Berlin, Germany, native finished third on the career scoring list with 1,756 points, behind Buck Jenkins ’93 (1,767) and Jim McMillian ’70 (1,758; see Obituaries). His 96 3-point field goals set a school record and he became the Columbia career leader with 277 3-pointers. He also set a school record with 78 steals, his average of 2.2 per game leading the Ivy League and ranking 11th nationally.

Supporting Lo were Mullins and Alex Rosenberg ’16, both of whom missed the 2014–15 season due to injury but enjoyed solid bounce-back campaigns. Mullins started all 35 games, and also averaged 13.3 points per game. He also led the Lions with 116 assists and was named to the All-Ivy Second Team. Rosenberg averaged 13.5 points per game and was named All-Ivy Honorable Mention. Luke Petrasek ’17 was another key contributor, averaging 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and delivering 41 blocked shots, while Jeff Coby ’17 led the team with 163 rebounds, 4.7 per game. Isaac Cohen ’16 was perhaps the team’s most versatile player, ranking among the Lions’ leaders in several categories.

Mullins reportedly will play next season at UC Berkeley after being granted a fifth year of eligibility because he missed nearly two full seasons due to injury. League rules prohibit players from playing a fifth year in the Ivy League, so Mullins was required to transfer.